Tuesday, March 22, 2016
What Lent and Holy Week Meant to me as a Kid
Parce Domine! Parce Populo Tuo! Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis! This was the Latin antiphon we would sing at St. William’s Church in Euclid during Holy Week when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. The tune was ancient Gregorian chant; the antiphon was sung over and over, a response to a psalm reading. The effect was powerful and hypnotic—and unforgettable.
Somehow Christmas, especially the invention of a fantasy, commercialized Christmas, is bigger in the popular imagination; but for me as a child and adolescent, Lent, with the passion and suffering of Jesus and our own little personal sacrifices, was much more significant. It seems that it’s harder to commercialize sacrifice, suffering, agonizing death, and even Easter—the Resurrection.
The truth is that even as a kid I understood the suffering part, but couldn’t exactly imagine the victory of the Resurrection. That I could only grasp intellectually, not “in the deep heart’s core” (to use Yeats’ great phrase from “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”).
During Lent we would always try to give up something—and for most people, including me for many years, it was candy. But one year I promised to make the Stations of the Cross (i.e., say a prayer and meditate at each of the 14 stations of the cross) every day. It went well for about two weeks and then I missed a day. In my scrupulous mind, this was a great mistake, and I promised Jesus that I would say ten Stations of the Cross for every one I missed. And then I missed again, and multiplied my promise to Jesus—and now I was in debt for 100 Stations for every one missed. Pretty soon, my debt began to multiply geometrically, and I finally gave up—owing the Lord thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Stations. I tell you I am hopelessly in debt to the Lord, and there’s no paying it back! It was a lesson in my own fallibility, my own flawed will—and maybe, the mercy of God. It took a long time to grow out of my over-religiosity, my scrupulousness.
For some reason, my inner spirit is still deeply religious, but no longer in an orthodox or conventional way. Lent, and Holy Week, still speaks to my soul, my Spirit. With the aching earth and its Creation, I can still sing that ancient Latin antiphon, “Parce, Domine!” Save, O Lord! Parce Populo Tuo! Save your people! Ne in aeternum, irascaris nobis. Don’t be angry at us forever.